Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It Looks So Easy In the Magazine! or How to Learn New Techniques

In the April issue of Bead & Button magazine, the cover story intrigued me. It was a peyote tube with increases and decreases that make the tube spiral.  The author attributes the technique to Aleta Ford Baker, so I will too. I have been wanting to learn various spiraling techniques for a while. The instructions looked simple enough, until I started to follow them.

The picture is of the three tries it took me to figure it out. The first one, on the left, was a pathetic attempt in two colors, like the pattern. They were similar but not identical greens.  I could not figure out where I was or where I was going no matter how many times I counted those beads. I gave up after about 20 rounds.

Then I figured that the important landmarks as I worked were the first bead in the A color (in this case, red) and the double beads inserted in every other round in the B color (green). So I changed the first A to an orangey-yellow, and the double B to bright yellow, and started the middle effort, number two.

Once again, I was at sea. The increase was easy enough to figure out, it was that double B. Where was the supposedly paired decrease? I guessed here there and everywhere, getting it wrong and wronger. I ended up with too many or not enough spaces for my next round of peyote, and finally threw up my hands.

Along about this time I was morally certain there was something wrong with that pattern. They must have skipped a step or put in too many or miscounted or something. I was certainly following it exactly! Frustrated? You bet.

But I wasn't giving up. I'd gotten farther this time, and I determined to conquer this technique. I started again the next day. This time the double A is bright yellow, the double B is orangey.

I sat down with some colored pens and the magazine page and colored in the bead diagrams in the pattern. Each step of the way I drew in red, green, yellow, orange, and visualized carefully how the flat diagrams would look when pulled up into the tube that is the actual beadwork. Oh, and I labeled my little dishes of beads, so I wouldn't get confused (okay I mean more confused) as I worked.

I made rules for myself..."after the double B, two stitches and then step up, after the single B, two and then a third to bridge to the A,"and, "after the single B round, add another double B" and that's when it hit me.

Those two stitches and a skip to the A, after adding the double B, were the decrease. Okay, that mystery was solved.  They were in fact paired, increase and decrease.

Starting these kinds of tubes is always hard for me. Until a peyote piece is several rows or rounds along, it doesn't look like anything but a mess. The same way with this one. But I persevered, muttering all those rule under my breath (my husband probably got tired of hearing "and then two and step UP!") and finally, finally on number three try the beads began to fall into place. They started telling me where the placement was. That's when I knew I'd gotten it right, and that lovely spiral began to curl.

I kept at it for about 2.5 inches, and will probably extend the tube another several inches, in the interest of engraving in muscle memory the exact pattern. Then I'll be ready to go back and try it in a much more subtle color palette.

So here are my hints for learning new techniques from books or magazines, where you don't have a teacher to point out where you're going wrong.

1. Don't be afraid of quitting and starting over if it gets too messy. You can always salvage those beads.
2. Don't try to make a finished piece first time. Use excess or cheap beads to work with, in contrasting colors, even if you don't like them together. Sometimes knowing where you are in the beadwork is the most important element of learning.
3. If you feel you're missing something in the instructions, break it down. Maybe write each step on a card or on a piece of paper. Maybe color the beads in, like I did. We all learn differently, so adapt the instructions to suit your learning style. I even considered gluing some beads on top of the diagrams and running the thread through them to learn what I was supposed to do.
4. Don't beat yourself up if you don't get it even after several tries. I keep a box of my samples and tests and learning pieces. It helps remind me where I went wrong. Wait a day, take a rest or a break, take a walk. Don't keep pushing if it's not coming. Sometimes a break will let my mind process the technique, then when I go back to it, it comes much more easily.
5. When you do get it, celebrate. Buy some more beads!

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